Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood and her sister Constance live in their stately family home with their invalid uncle Julian.  Constance is a recluse, afraid to go into the town.  Merricat takes care of all the family errands, and endures the stares and catcalls from townspeople.  Several years before, five other family members died after arsenic was put in the sugar bowl.  Constance was acquitted, but the town won’t let them get on with their lives.  So they pass their days quietly.  Constance is in her late 20s and handles most of the cooking and household management.  Merricat is 18 and helps out with certain tasks but prefers the outdoors and the company of her cat, Jonas.  One day their cousin Charles appears on the scene, and attempts to insert himself into their lifestyle and into the family affairs.  Charles is smarmy, and while his motives are unclear you can be sure they aren’t good.  Constance appears to be falling for it, and only Merricat is suspicious.

But then, as often happens in creepy stories, there’s a cataclysmic event followed by a significant plot twist designed to make you question  everything you’ve read so far.  Unfortunately, the cataclysmic event was foreshadowed, and I spotted the twist long before it happened. I was disappointed, having read many reviews about how wonderfully creepy this story was.

Shirley Jackson was the author of several novels and short stories, often involving elements of horror or the occult.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in 1962, and perhaps it just doesn’t hold up well when compared to modern works of a similar nature.

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6 thoughts on “Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

  1. It’s interesting, I had a very different reaction, but then I read it in one session, with that “what happens next” feeling that doesn’t leave much space for reflection. Have you read her very different books about her family, Life Among the Savages, and the sequel Raising Demons?

    • Lisa, I haven’t read that. My only other exposure to Shirley Jackson was in high school when we read The Lottery and also saw a rather haunting short film. I think perhaps this book suffered because I’d seen a fair amount of hype and it raised my expectations.

  2. I enjoyed this one but I read it before all the hype. I can see how that would impact your reading of it. Happens to me all the time too.

  3. You’re right, the twist DID make me want to go back and read everything again to see if I was just a clueless reader. Normally I picked up on things, but I think I was so enjoying myself that I didn’t even notice.

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